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A blog for Grandpa

This blog is for my Grandpa. Living as we do in Burnley and London, we are separated by many miles across many motorways and our time together is far too short. But he keeps a close eye on this (extremely neglected) blog and so this one’s for and about him. And it goes like this…

Performing 8 times a week, particularly in a demanding role, requires serious sacrifice. For me this means sticking to a very dull, very rigid routine. I have to eat right and rest wherever possible. No drinking, no partying, in fact very little socialising at all. There are some performers who can party all night long and sing like an angel the next day…but not I.

To be honest, this is no great loss for me. Long before I became an actor I was avoiding pubs, clubs, bars and booze. At Drama School leaving a party early was called “doing a Dave” and during Tara’s first pregnancy I “joked” that I was having a baby so I could leave parties early (It really works, you should try it). I’ve always much preferred a cuppa tea and a slice of cake in a cosy coffee shop, putting the world to rights with a great friend. But other sacrifices have hurt me. Namely moving so far away from my friends and family up north.

I’m currently sat in the back of a cab, driving home from Luton Station - not my usual route and one that finds me travelling much farther than usual. Sat in the darkness of the back seat, illuminated by the warm glow of passing street lights, my mind is wandering and I’m suddenly transported back to Burnley, driving home after the football.

If I close my eyes I can see my Dad next to me, driving us through the Lancashire hillsides. My Brother’s in the back, stuffed to the brim with meat and potato pie and regaling us with the finer points of Burnley’s latest win…or at least condemning the appalling refereeing decisions that led to our defeat. If I lean to the side I can almost feel the warm landing of my Dad’s shoulder as he reaches over to pat my head.

I allow my mind to wander lazily back through that well-rehearsed day to our ‘football match tea’. Grandpa would refuse to eat if Burnley lost - though he usually found a way to force himself. We’d spend our time laughing, joking and fiercely analysing - that referee really did have a shocker.

An 'eight shows a week’ schedule leaves very little time for trips up north and having a toddler and another on the way makes it all the more difficult. Contracts eventually come to an end though and your schedule can become (terrifyingly) free. Maybe then I’ll be able to reconnect with some old traditions, the greatest of traditions: those spent with people you love.

Being a Father is another demanding profession to say the least. I was asked recently why I wanted to have children (the person in question described them as leeches - we tend to disagree on most things) and after reflecting for a moment I mused that the relationships I have with my own family are some of the most important and rewarding I have ever known and the thought of creating that for a new generation is thrilling to me.

I dream of driving home with my own Son, Rufus, after a football match tea as he rests his head on my shoulder. I suppose at some stage I may be a Grandpa myself. And if I am, I hope I’m something like as wonderful as my own, adamantly refusing to eat my dinner…before helping myself to seconds.

Love you lots Grandpa. I miss you.

And what about that referee eh?!

Question: "Should my son have a back up plan?"

I’m sitting in my dressing room, boiling with a sense of injustice.

A few of the cast and I have just finished a Q&A with a group of teens and their parents as part of Kids Week. I’ve taken part in many of these over the years and the questions are usually pretty predictable and harmless. We give a little insight into whichever show we’re working on and a little advice to any aspiring performers in the group. Occasionally you get a more testing question and often these catch you off guard. There’s no time to truly collect your thoughts and give a fully realised answer and so occasionally you fail to give an adequate one, or even any answer at all.

This was the case earlier as a mum spoke of her concern for her acting-obsessed son and his worrying lack of a “back up plan”. She asked if we, the cast, had day jobs and what work we planned to do once our contracts came to an end. A few of the cast gave more than reasonable answers as I squirmed in my seat, frantically trying to gather my thoughts to such an extent that I could answer the question. I couldn’t. I stayed silent and stared at my shoes. We answered a couple more questions about walking in heels and I shuffled out for dinner - a wrap from Pret if you must know.

Let me cut to the chase…

I don’t believe you can pursue your passion whilst also pursuing a back up plan. You don’t have time. There is no useful stopping off point during your training to quickly do a degree in accountancy or plumbing (unless of course, they are you passions). Plan B will always distract from Plan A and believe me, Plan A is all consuming.

Time for a tangent. Stick with me.

I’ve come to view my career as a fluid thing. I find it strange when people ask me “what do you do?” at Dinner Parties - partly because I never go to Dinner Parties, but mainly because the answer is forever changing and never that simple.

During my relatively short career, I have been (in order of appearance) a Drama Student, a Singer, a Barman, a Singer again, a Shoe Salesman, an Actor, a Husband, a Principal, a Father and an Actor again.

I took a year off from acting a few years back to buy and establish my own Stagecoach Theatre School with my wonderful wife Tara. Did I cease to be an actor in that moment? Did I buy the school and PING! become a Principal? Did I step back on stage and PING! become an actor again. Am I a singer whenever I step into a studio?

Of course not.

In reality I am all of these things and none of them. I am David Hunter, doing stuff.

I send Stagecoach emails during Kinky Boots intervals, confirm flyer designs on the train home, I write and record EPs on free afternoons, I change nappies, well…whenever I’m called into action. So which am I? What am I?

I am David Hunter, making plans, changing direction, pursuing goals, changing nappies - doing stuff.

My career (and my life) has been fluid enough to allow me to seize opportunities as they arise, rather than pre planning them before I even begin, and as a result my life remains varied, exciting and profitable, while I remain really flippin’ happy.

So, as my thoughts begin to drop into place I think my advice is this:

Don’t encourage your son or daughter to water down their Plan A by dedicating time to Plan B. Instead prepare your child for life’s uncertainties by instilling within them the flexibility to acknowledge opportunities when they arise and the bravery to pursue those opportunities with dedication and determination - qualities he or she has already shown a propensity for by pursuing their passion in the first place.

Now I’m not suggesting we all down tools and become actors. I’m certainly not suggesting that if you “work hard”, “dream big” and “don’t take no for answer”, your child will become a successful performer. He may not. In fact, he probably won’t. But that’s no disaster. Plan B (if we subscribe to such an idea) can be forged later, if he ever needs it. And in the meantime, by pursuing his passion, he will learn skills, make contacts and encounter numerous opportunities that may excite him and naturally take him in a new direction.

In my experience, actors tend to be precocious, creative, confident, determined, dogged, adaptable and utterly focussed on their goal. If they ever reach a point (and many of my friends have done so) where a change of direction feels desirable or necessary, these qualities allow them to flourish.

There are many wonderful careers that begin with a training in (or simply a passion for) the arts, so embrace your training, stride boldly forward and see what happens.

Your passion is rocket fuel and it will take you far.

(Merrily) We Roll Along.

It’s hard to watch shows when you’re an actor. Not just because of our conflicting schedules, or our tendency to scrutinise every last moment, but also because we know how it all works.

While others see sweeping set-changes, streaking magically, majestically across the stage, we see the nuts and bolts holding it together and the grunting, sweating crew breaking their backs to make it happen. We can’t help it. When the magician reveals his tricks, the magic is gone forever.

It’s incredibly rare, therefore, that I see a show that really grips me. But it does happen. One such show was ‘Merrily We Roll Along’, a production which boasts the most five-star reviews in West End history and if you’re not overly picky about the source, (David Hunter, The Daily Dave) you can add mine to the batch.

Following the struggles and successes of the show’s three creative protagonists struck me so powerfully that the production has stayed with me ever since.

One scene, somewhere in Act Two, saw the characters performing their own cabaret in a small nightclub, long before they found success in their various fields. The onstage crowd is sparse at best and the reception less than enthusiastic, but the performance is electric. It struck me how happy they were, performing to no one, but full of hope and dreaming of adventures ahead. Over the course of the show, this is perhaps their happiest time.

My mind wandered to Warrington and the months before 'One Man Two Guvnors’ brought me to London and delivered my West End debut. I was scratching around trying to make a few quid without having to do anything too soul-destroying. After short stints working at The London Bridge (a pub) and Puma (the seventh circle of Hell), I decided to put my efforts into something slightly more enjoyable and set up an Open Mic Night with my mate Danny.

Once a week we would rock up to this local bar and play music. We played quirky little covers and a load of our own songs. No one clapped. No one cared to be honest and I yearned for so much more. But it was glorious. Unremarkably wonderful. For a few short hours each week, I sat with my best mate and played music. We made just fifty quid each, ten of which was immediately reserved for a Chinese.

Salt and Pepper Chips.
Salt and Pepper Crispy Lamb.
And a Char Sui Bun for me.

On the all too rare occasions I get to visit home, a trip to Wok2Go is pitched unreasonably high on my to do list. It is the greatest Chinese takeaway of all time and my passion for their menu is unrivalled. My mate Craig says I literally make it taste better. My love for Wok2Go is infectious, people.

And that’s how much I miss the local Chinese. Can you even comprehend how much I miss playing music with my best mate?!

I can’t tell you what joy I felt singing songs in that crappy bar to those disinterested customers on those wet Wednesdays in Warrington. Playing music with Danny is one of my all time favourite things to do. I’ve been doing it since I was a teenager and I would gladly move him into my spare room if it meant we could do it more often.

Not to trivialise that last statement, but I would also do the same for the chefs at Wok2Go.

Now, I’m not saying I was happier back then, I’m not saying I wish I’d shunned the West End and stayed in Warrington. If I had, I’m sure Wok2Go would have eventually lost it’s shine and those less than interested bar-dwellers would have really started to tick me off. And you do NOT want to see me when I’m ticked off. I’m almost mean.

Equally, I’m not saying let’s all stay where we are and never wish for more in fear that we’ll miss what we once had. What I’m saying is…

Enjoy the journey, my friends.

If you’re the twenty-something working at Puma, the dreamer playing songs in a bar, the actor sitting in seat D22 holding up a sodding humous sandwich - enjoy the ride. Because I’m telling you now, there are people you’ll miss, there are places you’ll yearn for and there are Char Sui Buns that just won’t taste the same anywhere else.

Enjoy the journey, my friends.

The Secrets of Seat D22

Facebook has kindly reminded me that today marks five years since the final performance of ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ at The Adelphi Theatre. It’s a production I think of often during my nightly adventures in Kinky Boots, taking place as it did in the very same theatre.

‘Guvnors’ (because all show names must be shortened when trying to sound actor-y) was the show that brought me to London. Until that point, I had been beavering away up north, running open mic nights and travelling down for auditions. Not a bad little life. However, things change when your Young Persons Railcard expires - your world and your wallet will never be the same again. Suddenly I was desperate to move to London and ‘Guvs’ allowed me to do it. In some style too.

After a stint at the National Theatre, we briefly toured the UK before landing in The West End for a limited run at The Adelphi Theatre. The show was magnificent. I was a less than tiny cog in that monstrous machine, understudying one of the Guvnors and playing a myriad of tiny roles straight out of a fancy dress shop. My fully rounded and realised performances as 'Policeman’ and 'Vicar’ weren’t often mentioned in the five star reviews, but surely their presence alone lifted the production to those heady heights?

My other role within the show was strictly top secret. Only now do I finally feel able to lift the lid on the show’s mysterious tricks, mainly because it closed many years ago, but also because I suspect no one will read this blog.

Except you, I knew you’d come.

Each night, me or fellow-understudy Paul, would be handed a ticket for the show, wander in the front doors and plonk ourselves down in seat D22 to watch the first act of 'One Man, Two Guvnors’. We’d sit there and diligently giggle/guffaw at the show’s many gags despite the fact we were hearing them for the hundredth time and then when the big moment came, we’d reach into our backpacks and pull out a sandwich…

At a certain point in each show, deep into the first act, we would offer James Corden a nice sarnie before being lovingly torn apart by the man himself. He’d riff on the shock of being interrupted by an 'audience member’ before finally asking,

“What kind of sandwich is it?”
“Humous” I’d reply.
“HUMOUS?!”

The crowd goes wild. James collapses in a heap. My neighbouring theatre-goers laugh/cower/flick suspiciously through the programme to see if I’m photographed in it (I am) and the show continues. I would watch the rest of the act, under scrutiny from the (now definitely suspicious) audience members around me and then disappear to my dressing room for the interval.

I did that several hundred times.

It really was a fantastic show, but as you can imagine, it became fairly predictable after the fiftieth viewing. Eventually the changes, the shifts, the anomalies became the moments of interest. Knowing the various, hard-to-spot mistakes, the backstage love-triangles and bubbling disputes made for interesting viewing, but it was the audience who offered the most fascinating curveballs.

On several occasions, people from as high up as the upper circle would hurl sandwiches onto the stage before I could even chip in, splattering cheese and ham across several metres of staging. But my absolute favourite was the man who unwittingly followed the entire script, word for word, as he offered James a sandwich and when asked what type it was, “Humous!” was his reply. In that moment, he effectively robbed me of my Act One responsibilities and gave me the evening off.

A glance from James said it all and I quietly wriggled past my neighbours, returning to my dressing room. What a glorious forty-minute interval that was. I often wondered as the run progressed if my unknowing understudy would return to give me another evening off.

He never did.

I miss him.

Act Two saw me appear ever-so-briefly as a policeman to get punched in the face by an OAP. It was that kind of show. Then I’d bow, standing behind the principal cast and wondering what it must be like to be James, standing front and centre receiving that rapturous applause from the sell out audiences.

Now I know.

Five years since our final bow with 'One Man, Two Guvnors and a Policeman’ (my preferred title), I am bowing night after night back at The Adelphi. I am in the extremely privileged position of standing front and centre alongside Matt Henry and my glorious cast mates as the audience shows their appreciation for this life-affirming and ever so Kinky show. And I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.

Those in the know (ie those who have just read this blog) will notice the person sat in D22 usually gets a smile from me as we strut off stage. I have warmed that seat many many times, wishing I was stood on the stage and whenever I feel down or tired, unwell or irritated, I think of seat D22 and that plucky little scamp (me, aged 26) sitting there, wishing for a few more lines. It’s been a wild ride since then, but one I have tried to cherish with every step.

What's Next?

Ah, the dreaded question, capable of reducing the most eloquent actor to a mumbling, quivering mess. Occasionally fate will smile upon you and, with the knowledge that your next job is safely lined up, you can thrust out your chest and announce your success proudly. Often though, in darker times, you’re lumbered with an empty diary and a massive tax bill and you spend your time thinking up nonchalant responses while panicking that you’ll never work again. I’ve experienced both these things and everything in between. The truth of the matter is, sometimes you’ll have the answer, sometimes you won’t, sometimes you’ll be happy with this, sometimes you won’t.

But this time around I’ve found the question slightly more difficult. Not because I’m crippled with fear or pouring with sweat at the fact I’ve got nothing in the diary, but because it opens up a much bigger question for me,

“What do you do when all your dreams come true?”

To play a lead in The West End has been the realisation of a long standing dream of mine and to do it with ‘Once’, a show that I hold in the highest regard, is really quite astonishing. Glen Hansard’s music is engrained in me. We all have those albums in our minds, ones that found you at the perfect moment and became the soundtrack to your life. For me, my time at LIPA is Jason Mraz’s 'Waiting For My Rocket to Come’, it brings back memories of student accommodation, late night house parties and early morning dance classes. My two years in Sixth Form belong to Train’s 'Drops of Jupiter’ and my early twenties belong completely to 'Once’.

In a unprecedented stroke of luck for yours truly, a group of people woke up one morning and decided to make Once into a musical and by doing so gave me the chance to sing these incredible songs time and time again on the West End stage. I mean, how do you follow that?

Previously when confronted with “Whats Next?”, I could speak of my dream to play a West End lead and, if probed further, discuss my huge desire to play Guy in Once. Now it becomes much more difficult because the fact is, everything I wanted to achieve just happened!

This isn’t to say I’m calling it a day. I have plenty of ideas. There will be other shows, other projects that capture my imagination, but for now my only plan is to reflect; reflect on the wonderful journey I experienced through this show and on the fantastic people I was able to work with and call my friends. I will make decisions, hopefully wise ones, but first I’ll take some time to see which direction I want to be pointed in. Maybe I’ll focus on projects away from acting, maybe it’ll be about starting a family or buying a house, it’ll certainly be about planning a wedding!

I will see family and friends and cook for Tara and write songs and take photos and walk the dog and shuffle around in slippers and, at some point down the line, accept a job. What it will be, I have no idea and for now, I’m happy to wait and see.

The time has come to discover What’s Next and perhaps unearth a brand new dream in the process.

When’s Jason Mraz the Musical coming out anyway?

With love,

DH. x

PHOTO: An audience member captures my very first curtain call as Guy, exactly one year a go today.

*****


A year a go today and after just two weeks of rehearsals, a very clammy David Hunter stepped nervously onstage to play Guy for the very first time. This meant the realisation of a long standing dream of mine and the beginning of a journey which would see me fulfil an even bigger one; playing this magnificent role Full Time.

I’d spent the previous few days trying to come to terms with the realities of being a Standby. This was a whole new experience for me and a decision I was still trying to rationalise. Rather than performing every night, I’d be sat backstage waiting for opportunities. I knew these opportunities would come but when and how often, I had no idea. August the 12th 2013 was supposed to be about adjusting to this new routine, about finding my feet backstage. What actually happened was totally unexpected, completely wonderful and very, very sweaty.

The call came through around lunchtime. I thought it was a joke. There can’t be many occasions where a Standby has been thrust into action on his very first day. The fact of the matter was, I hadn’t even met some of the cast by this point and a few hours later I would be expected to lead them out in front of a thousand people.

I spent the day calmly [frantically] looking over my lines, whilst focussing [crying] and preparing for the task ahead [wondering if I could run away]

And then, before I knew it, we’d begun.

I remember the sweat.

Not a lot else, just the sweat.

I didn’t realise you could sweat from your fingertips.

Or the back of your knees.

But there I was.

Sweating.

And generally doing everything I was meant to be doing.

(I think)

My girlfriend assures me it was wonderful, but I have very little recollection of what actually happened that night. Nothing went wrong, I know that much. I said all my words, mostly in the right order, and no one died. Which makes for an extremely successful debut if you ask me.

And a year later, after numerous performances as a Standby and many, many more since I took on my dream role Full Time, I still look back on that night, and the week of performances that followed, with real pride.

At the time it was petrifying, but in hindsight, I wouldn’t change a thing. Yes it was a shock, horrifying in fact, but more than anything it was thrilling and exciting and without a doubt very, VERY sweaty.

PRESS RELEASE
(from The Stage)

David Hunter, a finalist in ITV’s Superstar series, is to lead the cast of the West End musical Once from May 12.

Hunter, who joined the production to understudy the role of Guy in July last year, will be joined by Jill Winternitz. She will play Girl, replacing Zrinka Cvitesic, who has been with the musical since it opened. Winternitz’s credits include playing Baby in the West End production of Dirty Dancing.

Hunter, whose credits include One Man, Two Guvnors and Seussical, replaces Arthur Darvill, who joined the show in March, having played the role on Broadway.

Directed by John Tiffany, the West End production of Once opened in April 2013 and is currently booking at the Phoenix Theatre to July 4, 2015.

From May 12 Hunter and Winternitz are joined by Fiona Bruce, Jamie Cameron, Mark Carlisle, Matthew Ganley, Mathew Hamper, Daniel Healy, Loren O’Dair, Miria Parvin, Tim Prottey-Jones and Jez Unwin.

ONE YEAR ON

‘Superstar’, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s search for Jesus, ended one year a go today with Ben Forster winning the role and the rest of the live finalists contemplating what the future might hold.

We had become highly skilled at the art of speculation, after several long months wondering who would progress in the competition. Some contestants swaggered confidently around Superstar Island claiming the Producers had already chosen their finalists and everything else was just for show. Many claimed they had inside information. “My friend knows the Producer” claimed one, “Tim Minchin is my Godfather” replies another. One guy says he walks Andrew Lloyd Webber’s dog every weekend and swears his little Jack Russell winked at him last week. So he’s a shoe in.

Others, myself included, pottered about the place is a constant state of mild terror, absorbing the less outrageous speculation and waiting for the next challenge. My aim, like many others, was to progress to the live finals or at least find myself eliminated in such a way that none of my friends would notice.

“I’m sorry Dave” Andrew would whisper, “you haven’t made it to the next round. Just sneak out this way and no one will batter an eyelid”

The rumours rattled on through our intensive time in the Jesus House. Eleven lads living, eating, working and competing together 24/7 for six weeks. Somehow we managed to have a little fun along the way (I won at LaserQuest, suckers!) and before long this bizarre lifestyle became the norm. The unmanageably high adrenaline levels now felt run of the mill and bubbled on throughout the process and into the live shows.

Wake up, shower, dress, taxi, eat.
Warm up, sound check, rehearsal, interview, eat.
Wardrobe, hair, make up, rehearsal, eat.

And then we’re live.

In front of friends, family, judges and an audience of millions waiting at home.

And it was brilliant.

Yes, it was stressful, an emotional rollercoaster, but after the event, with no more speculation or stress, you look back and realise. You just did an incredible thing.

It’s a numbing feeling leaving that adrenaline fuelled environment after so long. My mum recalls how quiet I was after it ended. I remember feeling bored. Where was the circus? The lights, the excitement, the noise. Where did it all go?

Nothing fazed me. Nothing interested me. Nothing compared to those huge highs and lows of excitement and pressure. Everything just seemed normal. Dull.

It took me a good few weeks to readjust to normality. It was a short holiday with my best friend that sorted me out. Hearing your mate break wind in your tiny shared bedroom soon brings you crashing back down to earth. Thanks Dan.

The year since has been a fantastic one. The challenge, I believe, when leaving that sort of show is to define yourself without it. Who do you want to be? How do you want to be perceived? I shied away from certain opportunities (you’d be surprised) and tried to be brave in turning down big money offers (you’d be stunned!) in favour of work I believed in.

I’ve aimed to send out a strong, positive image, whether that be because of the show, the cast, the theatre or a combination of all three. This hasn’t always been a plan that has lined my pockets (believe me!), but it’s led me to some wonderful shows, alongside some incredible performers. This was particularly evident in The Hired Man, which for me represented a lot of what I’d hoped for when leaving Superstar; a fantastic role in a beautiful show, alongside one of Britain’s finest Musical Theatre actors. By the end of our run at The Curve Theatre, we were enjoying standing ovations from full houses every night. “This” I thought, “is what it’s all about”.

And so a year that has seen me leap from Tommy to Seussical to My Land’s Shore to The Hired Man is ending with the news that I’ll be joining the West End cast of Once at the Phoenix Theatre as standby 'Guy’, a show and a role that I placed firmly at the top of my 'to-dream’ list many moons ago. I’ll have to wait for my opportunities to take to the stage (time to start speculating again) but when the time comes, what a thrill it will be.

Thanks for reading everyone. Especially you, Grandpa. x

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